Pandemic Journal, Day 509

t was our last day in Iceland; we had breakfast at the hotel again (the barista there makes a very nice espresso macchiato!) and finished packing before setting out for a little last-minute exploration.

We hadn’t walked all the way around The Pond yet, so that was our goal. Along the way, I was playing with Google Maps and found something called “Trivial Earth Lovers” – the description calls it a place of worship, but the photo associated with it appears to be that of the headquarters of the DAS Lottery! At any rate, that made me think of geocaching, so I hunted for easy caches near us and found two virtual caches, The Unknown Bureaucrat and Monument of Jón Sigurðsson – we’d been to both statues several times during the trip, so all we had to do was go back and take photos with one of us in the picture with the statue and submit the log.

We finished our walk around The Pond before getting the necessary photos; it was a pleasant day for a walk (we were amazingly fortunate in the weather the whole time we were in Iceland). If we’d had more time, we might have explored the “Human Expansion Station

but we skipped it in favor of leaving time for a visit to the National Gallery of Iceland (our Reykjavik cards were still valid, and I wanted to get full value from them!).

The National Gallery had a number of special exhibits – we had just enough time to visit two. The first, Death is Elsewhere, was a seven-screen video showing a couple dancing and singing very odd songs (in English) about Death being elsewhere – we stayed for a few minutes and moved on before the songs became total earworms.

The second, Hello Universe, was more traditional – it mostly had paintings, though there were some odd mixed-media pieces like Halldór Ásgeirsson’s Aurora Borealis Bar.

The labels for “Hello Universe” were only posted in Icelandic; fortunately, the museum had put the English versions online so we could look at them while walking through the exhibition.

After visiting the National Gallery, we took photos at the two geocaches and walked back to the hotel to finish packing and to check out, then we set out for one final meal at the Reykjavik Fish Company. I was pretty sure I knew where it was, but I brought it up on Google Maps to be certain – that was a mistake, because Google had the wrong address! We found it anyway and enjoyed fish and chips (they were out of Arctic char). It was next to Valdis Ice Cream – even though I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, I wanted to try the ice cream. Valdis was the place we’d been hunting for the entire trip – our trainer had told us to find a place that served ice cream on waffles – but I had to limit myself to a single scoop on a cone. It was very good; next visit to Reykjavik, I’ll plan to go to Valdis for the full experience.

Then it was back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage, a quick walk across the street to the bus stop for the trip to the bus terminal and thence to Keflavik to fly home (well, to Boston).

The route to the airport took us near Fagradalsfjall Volcano. It had been pretty quiet the last few days, but as we passed it, there was lots of steam coming out.

The commentary on one of the YouTube channels carrying live video said that there’d been a wall collapse a few minutes before we passed by, generating lots of lava. All I could do was watch the feed and wish I were there.

Now we’re on our flight to Boston – there was no chance to see the volcano when we took off, but I did enjoy the view of glaciers over Greenland.

The movies and TV offerings on this flight didn’t excite me, but I was drawn to one album, “IBM 1401, A User’s Manual” by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The first track, “IBM 1401 Processing Unit”, was strictly musical, so I was really surprised when the second track, “IBM 1403 Printer”, included readings of parts of the manual! Diane says she wishes her father had been able to hear this album – he spent years servicing 1401 systems as an IBM Customer Engineer.

We should land in Boston in a couple of hours – we’ll have to stay awake until 10pm or so Eastern Time.

Tomorrow, we see our son!

Pandemic Journal, Day 508

It was still pretty noisy outside last night when we went to bed, but closing the windows and turning on some brown noise made a huge difference, and we slept well.

We took an early walk this morning in search of a non-buffet breakfast – not much was open, and what there was didn’t appeal to us, so we went back to our hotel for their buffet after all – it was good, though not very Icelandic, except for one beverage:

Neither of us indulged.

After breakfast, we went to Kolaportið, the weekend-only flea market held in the old customs hall. It’s mostly aimed at locals rather than tourists (in fact, their official website is only in Icelandic) with lots of semi-permanent booths selling things like reading glasses, vintage clothing, and old appliances, but almost as soon as we entered, Diane found a jewelry maker who had made a nice pendant with a preserved lupin flower inside.

After wandering through the rest of the market (which reminded me very much of a con’s huckster room, though with even fewer books), we decided we’d take the ferry to Viðey Island. There were two options, both covered by the Reykjavik Card. There was an hourly ferry from the Skarfabakki terminal, which would require a cab ride. Or there was a twice-a-day ferry from the Old Harbor, ten minutes walk away – but I couldn’t find the schedule on their webpage and they didn’t answer their phone! We gambled and walked to the Elding booth at the Old Harbor and found that the next departure was 10 minutes away.

The trip was pleasant – we saw the Þúfa, an interesting artwork, as soon as the ferry pulled out, and of course there were views of Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa to be had, too.

The ferry stopped next to an Icelandic Coast Guard cutter, but nobody got out – we had stopped at Skarfabakki terminal to pick up passengers.

Five minutes later, we were at Viðey Island; we had a quick lunch at Viðey House and set off to explore the island.

Our first stop was the Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial to John Lennon from Yoko Ono. It wasn’t lit, of course, but I can imagine it would be very interesting to see when it is!

We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole island, but we did visit a few of the Milestones created by Richard Serra.

Soon enough, though, we were on the ferry and waving goodbye to the island and its inhabitants.

We got off at the Old Harbor and decided to visit the Omnom Chocolate Factory and Ice Cream Shop. It was raining lightly, and we weren’t dressed for it (I’d foolishly believed the weather forecast), so we popped into the Maritime Museum to let the worst of the rain pass.

I hadn’t really researched Omnom beyond seeing the rave reviews of their chocolate and ice cream; I thought it’d be a large operation, something like the Jelly Belly Factory or the Ritter Berlin Choco-World. It wasn’t – there was only one person staffing the store, which offered a few ice cream concoctions and a wide selection of chocolate bars. Both of us got the Lakkrís Wolf, which had soft serve covered with liquorice-chocolate sauce, raspberry-liquorice-chocolate cookie crumble and a milk chocolate wolf. It was interesting, but I wouldn’t choose it again. And we had to eat it outside, where the rain had returned.

We were able to take a bus back almost all the way to our hotel instead of walking a couple of kilometers, but we still got drenched when some clown drove his car through a puddle right next to us!

After we changed our clothes, we went on a final search for souvenirs in the Laugavegur area near our hotel – it’s Pride Week here, and the streets were filled with people celebrating (or maybe that’s what every summer Saturday looks like here!).

We had dinner at Brew Dog – good beer, messy sandwiches (sadly, they had run out of lambstrami, which was our goal, but the brisket and cheese bun was good), and a skillet cookie which might not have really been necessary. Our timing was good – when we left, there was a long line of people waiting for tables.

Now to pack up – tomorrow, we fly!

Pandemic Journal, Day 507

We got up extra early today to be sure we wouldn’t miss our Covid-19 test, so of course we were ready to leave the ship 30 minutes before our target.

The ship called a taxi for us, and a few minutes later, they said it was ready. The cruise director helped us with our luggage and we left the ship for the last time. There was a taxi there – but it had passengers in it, and when they got out, it drove off.

The people in the taxi were looking for a Golden Circle tour, which didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby. Our taxi (or at least another taxi!) pulled up while they were on the phone with their tour operator and we were off to the hotel – I hope they found their tour.

It only took a few minutes to get to our home for the next two nights, the 101 Hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, unsurprisingly, so we had them store our bags and waited for our friends to arrive so we could split a taxi to and from the Covid testing place.

The test was uneventful, and our results were negative, so we’ll be able to go back to the US on Sunday.

After getting tested, we went back into Reykjavik to enjoy the day. We started at the Saga Museum, which uses dioramas like this one to bring the early years of Iceland’s history to life. There’s an audio tour included – the whole museum took about 45 minutes to explore. Fun, but not life-changing.

From there, we went to Whales of Iceland, which also uses an audio tour and whale reproductions to help you appreciate cetaceans. Again, fun, but not life-changing.

We had hoped to have lunch at Kasbah, but even though they had signs in front of the restaurant advertising their lunch specials, they were closed. I checked the web site later and found that they’re only open for dinner – and we didn’t go there for dinner, either. Since Kasbah was closed, we went across the street to Reykjavik Fish; three of us had fish and chips, while Diane held out for Arctic char. Diane and I did agree on having Boli Beer – it was the best Icelandic beer we’ve had.

We went back to the hotel and finished checking in – our room overlooks Arnarhóll. Unfortunately, that also means it overlooks Hverfisgata, a very busy street – it’s going to be interesting trying to sleep tonight.

We finished the afternoon by going to three museums, beginning with The Culture House, part of the National Museum of Iceland. Most of the space is given over to “Treasures of a Nation”, Icelandic art – there were some very nice pieces included, such as Lava Flow by Þorbjörg Þórðardóttir:

Mountain Vista by Ólöf Einarsdóttir:

Kitchen Life by Anna Líndal:

and Die of Destiny by Finnur Jónsson:

Well worth a visit.

We then went to the Reykjavik Art Museum’s Hafnarhjús location; it was devoted to a group exhibition of very modern art. The piece I liked best was called Compasses, by Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir – it was created from felled trees, mounted horizontally and motorized to rotate slowly.

The rest of the exhibit was far more challenging. I’m glad I went, but I’m also glad the price of admission was included in the Reykjavik City Card.

Our final museum for the day was the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, on the 6th floor of the City Library. It was mostly given over to photographs by Sigurhans Vignir, showing Reykjavik (and occasionally other parts of Iceland) from about 1940-1970. I was taken aback when I saw his photo of the Town Center at Siglufjörður:

and realized I’d taken a similar photo earlier in the week!

Things had changed in the intervening decades.

Pandemic Journal, Day 506

Last night was probably the longest sail of this trip; we weren’t due into Heimaey until around 9am, so we had a leisurely breakfast. I went out on deck just in time to catch the pilot boat approach and the pilot come on board.




Once we’d docked, I went out on deck again and was nearly overwhelmed by the smell of fish – there were local birds taking advantage of the bounty, too.

Our tour of Heimaey began at the Volcano Museum; Heimaey was nearly destroyed in 1973 by a sudden lava flow from a vent which opened without warning – the lava eventually formed a new volcanic cone, Eldfell, and added about 20% to the size of the island (so any time you hear a real estate agent tell you to “buy land because they’re not making it any more” you can ignore that advice).

After the museum, we took a drive through town, passing through the harbor (where we confirmed what our noses had already told us – fish was the core of the town’s economy!), passing by Sprangan, a cliff where young islanders learn rope swinging – it’s how they collect eggs from nesting birds.

We continued around the island, stopping at their festival grounds, which were all set up for a festival which draws about 15,000 Icelanders every year (the population of Heimaey is only about 4,000).

The festival happens the first weekend in August, the weekend which has the most domestic tourism. But it was cancelled at the last minute this year because of Covid concerns. Maybe next year….

From there, we drove to the “puffin house” to enjoy one last view of puffins before we leave Iceland.

While we were there, our guide Sindri noticed a baby kittiwake that seemed to be struggling, so he grabbed it

then he carried it down to the shore

and threw it into the air so it could fly on its own.

Our final stop was near the airport – Sindri told us about the struggle to save Heimaey after the eruption, and the use of pumps like this one to slow the advance of the lava.

At first, they used the pumps to save houses and the town, but that meant that the lava started to threaten the harbor – and without the harbor, there was no reason for the town to exist. So they concentrated on the harbor and saved it; people started moving back into town as soon as the eruption ended, six months after it started.

We didn’t get a chance to see any of Heimaey on our own – but it looked like a nice place to explore on our next trip to Iceland.

We sailed away during lunch; there was one last lecture on the schedule, from Brian Murray from Duke on the transition to a low-carbon economy. At the end of the lecture, there were announcements: macarons were available in the lounge and there were whales visible from the ship. We decided that macarons could wait and went up to the observatory lounge on Deck 6.

We were not disappointed. I’ve never seen so many whales at one time, nor for so long – they were near the ship for at least an hour. I took over 200 photos, but not all of them were worth keeping. Here are a few I like – and there are many others.

We have a Covid testing appointment tomorrow morning at 9am, so we can’t linger on the ship (which probably makes them happy – they want to clean the room for the next guests). It’s been a good trip, and there’s more to come before we’re home.

Pandemic Journal, Day 505

We’re on our way to Jökulsárlón, the glacial river lagoon – we began with a tender ride to the foggy town of Höfn, which we were assured was charming on a day when you could see it. Then it was onto a bus for an hour-long drive to Jökulsárlón. We stopped at Hotel Smyrlabjörg for a comfort stop; we were preceded by the 13 Yule Lads we’d met on Monday in Dimmuborgir, but they’d gotten much more colorful in the interim.

At the lagoon, we had a few minutes to walk around before boarding a duck for our lagoon cruise.

We had to wear masks and life jackets the whole time and sit while we were on land, but we were free to move around once we were on the water. Being out with the icebergs and glacial fragments was a lot of fun.

At one point, our guide passed around a chunk of glacial ice; it was amazingly transparent and not all that cold!

We left the duck behind and reboarded the bus for a short drive to a beach where we ate our bagged lunches. It was a delightfully warm day – 13C – but none of us had brought swimsuits. There was an art exhibit on the beach with photos of the lagoon – it seemed rather meta.

After lunch, we drove back to Höfn and made a brief comfort stop at a library(!) and then continued on to meet our ship, which had repositioned to Djúpivogur.

A short tender ride later, we were aboard and in the lounge to enjoy the drink of the day.

Drink of the day

Tonight is the Captain’s Farewell Dinner – I suspect we won’t be finished until quite late. Good thing we don’t have to pack this evening!